Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Regional Historic Environment Record

Harlech Castle, Harlech

Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 2908
Trust : Gwynedd
Community : Harlech
Unitary authority : Gwynedd
NGR : SH5810031250
Site Type (preferred type first) : Medieval CASTLE
Status : World Heritage Site , Scheduled Monument , Listed Building I, Cared for by the State

Summary :
The earliest reference to Harlech is in the Mabinogi but no evidence has ever been found for an early court or llys on the site. Work was begun on the castle in 1283 to the design of Master James of St George and it was completed by 1289. The strong position of the castle on its rock overlooking the sea is hard to appreciate today as the sea has been replaced by the extensive sand dunes of Morfa Harlech. It was supplied by sea in 1294 having been entirely cut off by land during the revolt of Madoc ap Llywelyn and thus was able to survive. In 1404, however, it fell to Owain Glydwr who held the castle for over four years before it was finally regained by the future king Henry V. Unlike other of Edward I's castles, Harlech continued to play a role and was the last Lancastrian stronghold to fall in 1468. The Gatehouse was used for meetings of the court of assizes during the 16th century and the castle was held by the Royalists during the Civil War, being again the last castle to fall. The defences were ordered to be demolished in 1660 but the order was never carried out and the shell of the castle remains to this day.

The castle is concentric in design with a narrow out ward protected by a rock cut dry moat and an almost square inner ward with massive gatehouse. The Great Hall and kitchens were set against the curtain wall in the inner ward as was a building referred to as the Ystumgwern Hall which is thought to have been transported to the castle from nearby Ystumgwern.

An English borough was founded along with the castle at Harlech but no traces of walls or a regular grid of streets survive.

Description :
Harlech Castle, built 1285-90, is a rectangular fortress enclosed by 2 lines of walls, forming the inner and middle baileys, and defended by an outer bailey covering the N and W sides. The E and S sides are defended by a moat. The inner bailey has a tower at each corner and a large gatehouse in the middle of the E front.

There is a postern in the N wall and one in the W wall. The middle bailey, actually a narrow terrace between the two walls, has two gateways and two posterns in the curtain. <5>

The medieval watergate of Harlech castle, constructed in 1289 by Ralfe de Ocle at a cost of 124 15s 11d, and an area now used as a car-park and visitor reception building, possibly representing the site of the castle quay. (Gwyn, 1996)

Harlech castle is one of a series of masonry castles built by Edward I following his conquest of Wales in 1283. The design of the castles is thought to have been largely that of Master James of St George, who was Master of the Kings Works in Wales. The castle uses a series of concentric defences based around the gatehouse, including an inner ward with curtain wall, outer ward with lower curtain wall and a deep ditch on the south and east sides. Construction of the castle started in 1283, and it was nearly complete by 1289. A protected path, called 'the way to the sea' leads to the former dock at the base of the cliff, which it is assumed was accessible by boat either via a short canal or by the sea that may then have reached the castle cliffs. The large outer rock to the north was enclosed after 1294. (Berks and Davidson, 2006)

Construction of the Harlech castle began in May 1283 with 950 workers employed at the height of the building project in 1286 and the building complete by 1289 (Taylor 2002, 6). It is possible that sea access was from a dock near the present Water Gate (Lower Harlech) and building materials from Chester, Ergyn and Anglesey were carried up from there via a path that was formally recognised as such in 1289 (GAT 2009). It is likely that during the fourteenth-century sand inundation caused the lower castle docks area to become landlocked. The castle was seized by Owain Glyndwr in 1404 and held until 1409 and also was held for the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses in between 1461 and 68. Harlech was the last royalist stronghold to fall in 1647 signifying the end of the English Civil War (Taylor 2002, 13). The castle was transferred to the Office of Works in 1914 during which period repair and excavations were carried. In 1969 it became the responsibility of the Welsh Office and later Cadw in 1984. Two years later (1986) it was listed, together with Caernarfon and Beaumaris castles and Conwy town walls as a World Heritage Site. (Davies and Jones, 2015)

Sources :
, 1928 , Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club Transactions/Trafodion Cymdeithas Hynafiaethwyr a Naturiaethwyr Mon
Berks, T. & Davidson, A. , 2006 , Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd ( © GAT)
Berks, T. & Davidson, A. , 2008 , Coleg Harlech, Archaeological Assessment ( © GAT)
Davidson, A. , 20010 , Morfa Harlech, Harlech ( © GAT)
Davidson, A. , 2009 , Watergate at Harlech Castle ( © GAT)
Davies, I., and Jones, I. , 2015 , Harlech Castle Footbridge, Harlech, Gwynedd: Archaeological Excavation And Watching Brief ( © Archaeology Wales)
Gwyn, D. , 1996 , Llanbedr to Harlech Link Main: Archaeological Assessment ( © GAT)
Pavitt, J. , 2004 , World Heritage Site Management Plan: The Castles and Town Walls of Edward I in Gwynedd ( © Cadw/ICOMOS UK)
Smith, C. , 2012 , Harlech Castle, Harlech, Gwynedd: Archaeological Field Evaluation ( © Archaeology Wales)
Taylor, A. J. , 1986 , The Welsh Castles of Edward I
Taylor, A. J. , 1988 , Harlech Castle
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales , 1921 , An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire VI: County of Merioneth
Ordnance Survey , 1899 , SH53SE , <1>
Ordnance Survey , 1954 , SH53SE , <2>
Unknown , 1911 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <3>
Griffiths, W. E. , 1948 , Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies , <4>
Toy, S. , 1953 , Castles in Great Britain , <5>
Ordnance Survey , 1972 , SH53SE 1 , <6>
, Official Guide , <7>
Palmer, T. , 2007 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <11>
Humphries, P. , 2000 , Heritage in Wales , <12>
Taylor, A. J. , 1951 , The Archaeological News Letter , <13>
Cathcart King, D. J. , 1983 , Castellarium Anglicanum , <14>
Brooks, I. & Laws, K. , 2009 , Harlech Castle Lower Car Park Archaeological Evaluation , <15>
Kenyon, R. & Williams, D. , 2010 , The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales , <16>

Events :
42587 : Me 044 Fmw Site Visit (year : 1993)
42587 : Me 044 Fmw Site Visit (year : 1993)
41508 : Harlech Castle Lower Car Park (year : 2009)
44073 : Watergate at Harlech Castle: Harlech (year : 2009)
44293 : Coleg Harlech Archaeological Assessment (year : 2008)
44426 : Morfa Harlech, Harlech (year : 2010)
40374 : Llanbedr to Harlech Link Main (year : 1996)
44965 : Harlech Castle Footbridge, Harlech, Gwynedd: Archaeological Excavation And Watching Brief (year : 2015)
44966 : Harlech Castle, Harlech, Gwynedd: Archaeological Field Evaluation (year : 2012)
40652 : Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: A Threat Related Assessment (year : 2006)

Related PRNs : 93729

Compiled date : 10-02-1988

Images :

The above data are supplied by GAT in partnership with its Local Authorities (Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd County Councils, and Snowdonia National Park Authority), © GAT 2019 (and in part © Crown, 2019 - as indicated)
This information is supplied for the purposes of personal interest only and may not be used as part of a commercial project.

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